Book 1, Chapter 1 Summary

This Side of Paradise cover image

Amory Blaine is the son of the “ineffectual” Stephen Blaine and the beautiful and intriguing Beatrice Blaine. Beatrice was born in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to a well-to-do family. She went to school in Rome, where she learned to love the culture of Europe. When she returned to America, she married Stephen and bore her only son, Amory. From the beginning, Amory and Beatrice were good companions. Traveling around the world, mother and son became inseparable. Beatrice introduced Amory to a former lover and now good friend, Monsignor Darcy. After his mother had a nervous breakdown, Amory was left with his aunt and uncle in Minneapolis for two years.

Amory’s experiences in Minneapolis are mixed. Though superior to the other boys in his class, Amory is seen as artificial and self-absorbed. He is disliked for the most part. His first kiss is with Myra St. Claire on the way to a bobbing party. He had been trying to impress her and arrived fashionably late, but it was too late to go with the rest of the children to the party. Myra had stayed behind to wait a bit. They went to the party together then, but Amory pulled Myra to one side and surreptitiously kissed her. Immediately he is disgusted with the whole incident. He wanted to go away and never see Myra again. She asks him to kiss her again, but he tells her that he does not want to. She becomes angry and threatens to tell her mother that he kissed her. When Myra’s mother appears, however, she does not say anything.

In Minneapolis, Amory becomes quite an outdoorsman, hunting with his dog. His schooling ruins his French, and his reading habits change for the worse, he feels. He tries to be a lady’s man and collects locks of hair from several different girls. He dreams of becoming something great—but never of being great.

When Beatrice returns after two years, she takes over the remaking of her son back into the gentleman she wants him to be. She tells Amory of her breakdown. Amory is struck with shame at her appearance of weakness. Amory tells Beatrice he wants to be sent away to a prep school, St. Regis, in Connecticut. After Amory takes his admissions exam, he goes to visit Monsignor Darcy. Their relationship becomes that of a father and son.

At St. Regis, Amory is considered arrogant and conceited. He is also unhappy. He comes up with a classification of boys: the Slicker is clean and intelligent, popular and accommodating; the Big Man is a problem seeker and is careless. At the end of his time at St. Regis, Amory decides that he will go to Yale; he has bad memories of his prep school days.